Thursday, July 25, 2013

Indo-US joint research gets big, funding jumps to $220 million

Vice-president Joe Biden wasn't joking when he said that India and the US have more science and technology partnerships between them than any other two countries. A dialogue that had begun quietly seven years ago has recently blossomed into a substantial research collaboration involving roughly 100 institutions and nearly 1,000 scientists, according to officials in the Department of Science and Technology.

The committed funding from the two countries has also risen from only $2 million five years ago to $220 million. This research collaboration has begun to tackle some of the most serious challenges facing the two countries. Nearly half of the funding goes to developing a clean energy development centre, which functions within existing Indian and US institutions.

The major partners in this from India are the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Indian Institutes of Technology (Bombay and Madras), Solar Energy Centre, Indian Institute of Chemical Technology, CEPT University, and private companies like Wipro, Thermax, Abellon Clean Energy and Schneider Electric. The prominent US partners are the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Stanford University, University of Florida, and private companies like General Electric, Autodesk, Cookson Electronics, and Honeywell. They are trying to develop next-generation technologies in solar energy, biofuels and green buildings.

There are also partnerships in weather forecasting, healthcare and creating open government data platforms. The monsoon mission of the government of India, a Rs. 4-billion project to improve forecasts of the south-west monsoon, funds several collaborations; one of them is a monsoon desk at the National Centers for Environmental Prediction in Maryland, a US government organisation that provides weather forecasts and analyses to agencies around the world.

India is a scientific partner in the $1.2-billion telescope coming up in Hawaii, which will the most powerful so far in the world. "Indo-US collaboration in science keeps on expanding rapidly," says T. Ramasami, Secretary of the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Government of India.

The motivation for the collaboration stems from the fact that the two countries have many common problems that will benefit from joint research. Although the US is scientifically advanced, some contemporary problems require research inputs from multiple perspectives. The US could provide advanced scientific inputs to India, while India with its large scientific establishment and unique traditions could help US look at things from a different perspective. In the early stages of the programme, the decision of what to work on was left to the scientists, but now this is decided at the government level.

The Joint Clean Energy Research and Development Centre (JCERDC) is now developing next generation energy and building technologies. The most significant project in this is on solar energy, where a large team --- 15 laboratories from each country --- from both countries is trying to develop some very ambitious technologies. "In my 38 years of professional research," says Kamanio Chattopadhyay, professor at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and lead from India for solar energy, "I have not worked on a project like this. If we succeed, we could produce some path-breaking technologies in five years."

The aim of the solar energy project is develop disruptive technologies in three areas: photovoltaics, solar thermal and integration. The photovoltaic part includes developing print-jet technology, organic polymer cells, and solar cells with silicon-like efficiency with nontoxic and abundant materials. In solar thermal, which generates electricity by focusing the sun's heat rather than light, scientists are developing new kinds of reflectors and coating materials. One of its aims is to increase the efficiency and decrease the amount of land, always a constraint for implementing large solar energy projects.

In biofuels, the clean energy centre is developing technology to utilise high-biomass plants like sorghum, bamboo and pearl millet, which grow easily in Indian conditions. "These plants can withstand dry conditions and even salt," says Ahmed Kamal, scientist at the CSIR-Indian Institute of Chemical Technology at Hyderabad, who is the project lead from India. Bamboo is a special plant as it can absorb and sequester 30% more carbon dioxide than other forest plants. Current research on the so-called second-generation biofuels focuses on ethanol from cellulose.

India has started blending petrol with ethanol, whose share can rise up to 20% in four or five years. In green buildings, the aims are slightly different for the two countries. Since India is yet to construct a large number of the buildings it needs in the next few decades, its focus is on producing new green buildings. Since the US already has a large base of buildings, it focuses substantially on retrofitting for reducing energy use.

The two countries have still found common ground. "Building science as a research topic does not exist in India," says Satish Kumar, energy efficiency ambassador of Schneider Electric, a partner of the project from India. The Indo-US project would aim to fill this vacuum, as well as creating policy imperatives and best practices. "Certification in India does not look at operational efficiency," says Girish Ghatikar, Rish Ghatikar, Project Director, the U.S. India Center for Building Energy R&D (CBERD). Improving this operational efficiency is one of the goals of the project.

In all projects, it is a case of mutual benefit. "This is not a technology transfer project," says Rajan Rawal, assistant professor at the CEPT University in Ahmedabad, which leads the green building project from India, "India has to offer something back to the US as well." In green buildings, much of the knowledge from India could be on methods of passive cooling, by not using airconditioning, as buildings in the US always use air-conditioning for cooling.

In solar energy, this could be domestic expertise in software technologies; modern solar energy systems use a high amount of software. In any case, if the project expands as it has in recent times, the energy sector of both countries could see some breakthrough in the next few years.

Source: The Economic Times, July 25, 2013

Friday, July 19, 2013

US-based MOOCs consortia in tie-ups with local universities for taking content online

For 29-year-old Anil Kumar, a business consultant at Cognizant Technology Solutions, an online course in 'gamification' fast-tracked his career, earning him a consulting project for his firm in the US. Kumar learnt the concept from Coursera, a social entrepreneurship firm partnering with 33 top universities in the world that offer courses online for anyone to take for free. "Since gamification (application of game elements to non-game problems, such as business and social impact challenges) is a new topic, I was able to scale up fast and have become a subject matter expert," says Kumar, who has done his engineering from Manipal Institute of Technology and MBA from IIM Indore.

Bhuvanesh Baberwal, an engineer and MBA from IIIT-Gwalior who is preparing for his civil services exams, has completed 60 courses from Coursera and has also enrolled into similar platforms, Udacity and edX. He says the courses opened up world class "good quality education" that would have cost him millions of dollars in a traditional classroom environment of one of the top global schools.

Kumar and Baberwal are among many participants in the global education revolution called MOOCs, or massive open online courses. Interactive learning content is delivered online to any individual, anywhere in the world for free. The lectures are delivered in video chunks and students can watch them at their convenience. Students can also participate in interactive quizzes, short video lectures, open forum discussions and assignments. Though it's early days yet for MOOCs and experiments on certification, assessment, pedagogy and other aspects are on, they have opened up high quality education opportunities like never before.

India is the largest driver of traffic for the courses outside of the US, according to data from the three MOOCs consortia from the US - Coursera, edX and Udacity - which offer courses from the world's elite universities. Udacity also has a strong tie to industry and bridges workforce-related skills in their courses. At edX, Indian enrolments are the second highest across all courses. And with nearly 100,000 visits last month alone, India is the largest driver of traffic outside the US for Udacity.

Coursera and edX are exploring associations with several top Indian institutes of higher education, including the IITs. Udacity too sees India as a huge opportunity and is keen on making inroads. A few weeks ago, IIT-Bombay joined edX, and some of its regular courses will be available to lakhs of students in the world. And after the success of its experimental course on web intelligence and big data on Coursera last year, IIT-Delhi is planning to repeat it this year. "We are open to partnering with other institutions so that their students can have access to IIT faculty and resources," says Prof Huzur Saran, head of computer science department at IIT-Delhi.

Coursera is developing a mobile application so that students from economically weaker backgrounds in India can access courses on Akash tablets, which the government is keen to take to people at Rs. 1,500 a piece. "In India, students face the problem of intermittent internet connectivity. With the mobile App we are developing, students can download course content when they have connectivity and access it later," says Andrew Ng, one of the co-founders of Coursera, which has about 400 courses and 4 million students. In the past six months, Coursera has seen a 139% increase in Indian student enrolment.

Coursera is also discussing with several Indian universities a model called "flip classroom". Students can listen to lecture material at home and then come to collaborative classroom teaching. It has introduced an option called Signature Track, which will give students in select courses the opportunity to earn a verified certificate for completing their course on payment of about $50.

AFTP, a MOOC platform that provides application-oriented business courses, is pursuing partnerships with IIT-Kharagpur, IMT-Ghaziabad and IISWBM-Calcutta to offer courses for credit in a "flip classroom" framework. It is also pursuing partnership with employers like CMC to offer courses to new hires. "India is one of our most important target developing nations," says Raj Chakrabarti, one of its founders and professor of systems engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.

While MOOCs promise to change the higher education landscape, they are still in the evolving stages as far as pedagogy, assessment - online tests are open to plagiarism and proxy - and authenticated certification are concerned. The drop-out rate too is very high, with only about 10% of the registered students completing courses.

"Some students are hoping that a certificate of completion can enhance their employment prospects, but we don't have rigorous enough standards and methods for evaluation to put a lot of weight on these certificates," says Larry Diamond, Director, Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law at Stanford University, who teaches a course on democratic development on Coursera.

Experimentations on pedagogy are on. One observation is that half the students start working on their homework before watching video lectures, which could lead to professors assigning homework before the lecture. "It appears that students get more excited about learning when they try to puzzle out a problem," says Agarwal of edX.

"We are learning about teaching methods with research that can translate to on-campus teaching," he adds. For example, at MIT, researcher David E Pritchard has been studying how people learn. The data from the first prototype course alone, one that Agarwal taught on Circuits & Electronics, is staggering and can fill 110,000 books. "We recorded every click - all 230 million of them," he says.

Critics say online courses cannot replace traditional classroom teaching methods and university degrees. However, there seems to be a significant scope for MOOCs as a complementary teaching method, particularly in the context of continuing professional education and 'lifelong learning'. "We do not believe MOOCs will replace on-campus teaching. But we do see MOOCs as enriching college courses, through blended or hybrid courses," says Agarwal. In such courses, the lecture portion of a course is delivered online, outside of classroom time, and instructors use class time for more interactions with students on campus.

What form MOOCS eventually take is hard to predict, but for now, they can be a priceless supplement.

Source: The Economic Times (Online Edition), July 19, 2013

Seven IITs, Infosys, TCS, Cognizant and Nasscom team up to provide free online courses

Seven leading IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology), Infosys, TCS, Cognizant and industry lobby Nasscom are coming together to launch a bunch of free, online courses that could potentially help 100,000-150,000 people a year get high-quality education and make them job-ready.

The courses will be offered using the model of massive open online courses (MOOCs), which is globally creating an upheaval in the world of higher education. The first three courses in computer science are expected to roll out this October. "This programme is particularly relevant to India because of the high number of young students who need to be educated and trained," says Lakshmi Narayanan, Vice-Chairman of Cognizant.

MOOCs make high-quality education from top universities accessible to anyone, anywhere in the world, online and for free. The model was rolled out in early 2012 back-to-back by two start-ups, Udacity and Coursera, both emerging out of Stanford University. This was followed by edX, MIT-Harvard's online courses platform.

About 15 faculty members from the seven older IITs will form the faculty and are currently designing the course. The participating IITs are Delhi, Madras, Kharagpur, Kanpur, Roorkee, Bombay, and Guwahati. "We are currently working out the details of the programme in consultation with Nasscom," says Prof Bhaskar Ramamurthi, Director, IIT-Madras.

Seven IITs, Infosys, TCS, Cognizant and Nasscom team up to provide free online courses. "We are also hoping to rope in more than 500 mentors on a voluntary basis from industry and academia," adds AK Ray, professor of the Centre for Educational Technology at IIT-Kharagpur.

This is the biggest industry-academia partnership to help students and professionals access top-quality course content and meet specific industry demands. "For the first time, students from both rural areas and metros will have access to the same content, channel, tests, experts and certification," says Cognizant's Narayanan.

People who take the courses will be eligible to write proctored exams for a minimal fee and get certificates. For the computer science courses, IIT will give certification. For the foundation courses, industry will give certificates. It could also be a joint certification with IITs.

"Students from the second year onwards in science and engineering from any college can take the courses that will be offered multiple times a year," says Andrew Thangaraj, associate professor of electrical engineering at IIT-Madras. "It will make a difference in their career progress." Google is providing its Course Builder platform for hosting MOOCs. HackerRank will provide their web portal, where students can practise their programming assignments and get them verified and graded.

Till now, IITs have been offering open courseware on the National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL). This is a repository of video lectures created by professors of the seven older IITs and IISc-Bangalore available to anyone, anywhere in the world on Youtube etc. However, NPTEL does not give any certification; neither does it have any interaction or synchronised classes. In the next phase of NPTEL, all these seven IITs and industry have joined hands to offer courses on the web-based MOOCs platform, which will also offer certification.

"Cognizant has been discussing this idea with academia and industry for the past three years... Cognizant will make available infrastructure at its training facilities during off-peak times, such as weekends, to enable students to take tests and get certified," says Narayanan.

Initially, IITs will run three mini modules of a computer science course, including programming, algorithm, and data structures. Each module will have 12 lectures and there will be a total of 36 lectures over 12 weeks. Going forward, the plan is to repeat this model in VLSI (very large scale integration) embedded systems and other branches of engineering and general sciences.

"Industry is getting involved with inputs on applicability and problem-solving aspects with the aim of making students more industry and job-ready," says Sandhya Chintala, executive director, sector skills council, Nasscom, who is leading the programme for the industry association.

Industry has also shared a brief on the skills needed for 67 entrylevel job roles. IITs will make these available on MOOC platform. "This is the first time that industry has articulated the performance of an individual at an entry-level job role. This clarity will help formal or non-formal training institutions to get people job-ready," says Chintala.

Source: The Economic Times (Online Edition), July 19, 2013

Applane bets big on education sector

The penetration of technology in educational institutions has brought a lucrative business opportunity for companies providing education-related solutions. Amidst the rising demand, such companies are witnessing a profitable growth. Applane, a Gurgaon-based company is providing software and enterprise resource planning (ERP) to educational institutions. ERP is management software. Under this system, the educational institute integrates applications to manage the work. This cloud-based software integrates all facets of an operation, including examination and evaluation, online assignments, attendance, report card, timetable, fee design, student transportation etc.

"The era of technology has ushered in a revolution in educational institutions in the country, should the demand of ERP spike in schools and colleges," said Shobhit Elhance, vice-president of Applane. It provides cloud-based integrated software suite for managing all organizational functions. He also said that the demand for technologies pertaining to school-management systems has increased in tier II and III cities which are yearning for world-class products. The effective use of the technology is helping in control the decline in attendance rate of students as well as minimising other issues related to education delivery, student management and human resources.

Demand brings business
Till recently, the education domain as a business had largely been ignored by most companies. This technology transformation is a very recent phenomenon. Different parts of the country also show a keen interest in acquiring such solutions in educational institutes.

"It is only in the last decade, thanks to the Millennium Goals and funds infused by World Bank and various government schemes for education, that there is a spur of companies trying to map the educational requirements. They are also rushing in to provide required agnostic solutions," said Elhance.

There are around 110 educational institutions in Gurgaon, comprising of around 74 schools, 19 engineering and architect colleges, 1 medical college and 16 management schools. "We, alone, offer the ERP service to around 10 institutions in Gurgaon. Besides, many institutions have subscribed to different technology-related solutions of other companies as well," said Elhance.

He added that since the education technology and content is still in a nascent stage, there will be substantial growth opportunities in future. The growth of these companies can be pegged at around 20 per cent in the next few years.

Business model
Most of the ventures which work in this field work on pay as you go (PAYG) model. The pricing also varies with the customization based on the number of modules an educational institution has subscribed to.

"We charge on a per student per month basis. For instance, if a school or college has subscribed for the complete ERP, the price charged will be Rs. 20 per student per month," said Elhance. He, however, added that if the institute decides to customize the service and opts for only few, there is surely a decline in the price charged.

Bumpy rides
The sustenance of any company within education domain shall be determined by their offering of a proven solution, their capacity to innovate, provide value based services and organic growth.

Elhance said that many software providers in education sector, are struggling with the confusing requirements of the users, resulting in customization losses and non-billable hours that eat into profits, closure of divisions and collapse of companies.

Solutions and education
This company believes that the technology-related solutions will bring revolution in education system. These systems will help the education sector in different ways. It will help bring process efficiencies and improvement in quality of service delivered; it will also release time for staff in educational institutions to do other productive work.

It will work to bring improvement in learner engagement and outcomes. With the use of effective technology, educational institutions can become 'net knowledge creators' rather than just knowledge disseminators. "We offer 99 percent uptime guarantee for this cloud-based software," claims Elhance. He believes that the introduction of technologies in the educational systems will also enhance functional literacy, prevent dropouts and improve education system.

Source: The Economic Times (Online Edition), July 19, 2013

Sunday, July 14, 2013

1/3rd IIT aspirants are kids of public sector, government staff

Most aspirants for the premier Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) are either children of government employees or whose parents hold public sector jobs, while children of businessmen and farmers lag behind. But data on IIT aspirants and successful candidates reveals that doctors' children performed better in the IIT entrance tests than those whose parents were engineers or government employees.

Aspirants whose parents were in the public sector or government service formed almost one third of the total candidates, around 506,000, who registered for the joint entrance exam. But their success rate was just 5.8%. On the contrary, out of the 7,067 doctors' children, 9.92% made the grade, the highest among any other professions. Data from the IITs revealed an interesting trend among candidates who registered for the competitive exam last year and qualified to enter the most sought after institutes in the country.

While children of government staffers stand at third position, those whose parents are into teaching/research also did better with a success rate of 5.21%. Among girls too, the highest success rate of 5.74% was seen among doctors' children. But most girls, or 54,576 of the 169,000 registering for the test, were children of government employees.

"People in government jobs seek a secure future for their children and they see IIT education as a means to achieve it," said JEE (Advanced) - 2013, Chairman, H C Gupta. "More doctors send their children into engineering as a qualification in the medical field takes about nine years while one can become an engineer in just four years," added Gupta.

Aakash Chaudhry, director of a coaching institute, said peer pressure among parents in government and public sector units was too high, and therefore they were major contributors to the aspirants' pool. "Getting into an IIT is a matter of reputation for many families. It is more of a competition among parents than the children," said Chaudhry.

Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) professor Bino Paul believe that about a couple of decades ago, before globalization, the trend was different. "IITs remained heavily elitist before and during globalization. However, in the globalised world, brand IIT is facing a challenge from institutes in the Ivy League. The highly networked group prefer to send their children abroad even for undergraduate studies. Students who are in international schools, with higher resources, now have global aspirations. IITs miss out on these chunks," he said. Paul said the fact that most candidates were from CBSE schools, which are largely preferred by government servants, could be one of the contributing factors.

Source: The Times of India (Online Edition), July 14, 2013

IISc makes jet engines quieter

Scientists at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bangalore have helped Rolls-Royce develop low-noise technology for aircraft engines that are fitted in long-haul airplanes like Boeing 747s and Dreamliners.

An 11-member team led by U Ramamurthy of the department of materials engineering began research in 2006 in collaboration with the UK company and recently delivered the technology. This technology, developed using shape memory alloys, brings down engine noise during landing and take-off. Noise levels of aircraft have triggered protests in many cities and residents near airports have forced adoption of rules such as ban on nighttime landings.

"Rolls-Royce was involved in a tripartite research agreement with research groups in IISc and IIT-Bombay as well as Imperial College, London. The objective was to discover high-temperature shape memory alloy compositions with a new technique which could be adapted for engines," Ramamurthy said.

The professor and his student Vyasa Shastri explained that a chamber in the engine is fitted with silencer vanes. "When the plane takes off or lands, the silencers become operational. This reduces engine noise," Ramamurthy said. The vanes were capable of operating at temperatures of 200 degrees Celsius and higher.

"It's been a great collaboration, developing a method to screen a large number of alloys. This has applications beyond the current material that could develop into actuators for more aircraft, into a general tool for developing alloys. It's been very high-profile within Rolls-Royce, and very exciting for the group," said David Dye of the department of materials, Imperial College, London.

Source: The Times of India (Online Edition), July 14, 2013

Going for British education? Higher studies in Germany & France is cheaper and easier

During his state visit to India in February, French president Francois Hollande unveiled a plan to increase the number of Indian students studying in France by 50% in the next five years. Ambitious? Perhaps, but not unrealistic. After all, the country did achieve that target last year - in 2012, almost 2,600 Indian students opted for higher education in France, a jump of 50% over the previous year. In 2013, this ease to 3,000.

The French government, Campus France --- the national agency for the promotion of higher education, international student services and international mobility --- is going all out to lay out the red carpet for Indian students.

Today (July 14), France will launch a unique five-year circulation visa in the Schengen area which will be issued to Indian graduates of French institutions of higher learning for both business and tourism purposes. The scheme includes all present alumni — the 10,000 Indian nationals who've graduated from French institutions.

"We expect this [visa] will convince many students to apply to French institutions. Not only will it help them maintain networks they have built during their studies, it will also be a great asset in their professional life," says Caroline Gueny-Mentre, attache for scientific and university co-operation, Campus France.

Further, Indian students can stay on for six months after graduating to look for employment in France in their line of work. Once hired, a long-stay work permit is readily obtainable with the help of the company.

Continental Shift
These steps are proving to be a huge advantage for France in view of the declining popularity of the once most-popular destination in Europe for Indian students — the UK. Since April 2012, the UK discontinued the two-year post-study work route for international non-European Union (EU) students.

Foreign students from non-EU countries graduating with a UK degree have to find a job with a UK Border Agency-licenced Tier 2 sponsor to remain in the UK after they finish their courses. (The Tier 2 category is for foreign nationals who have been offered a skilled job to fill a gap in the workforce that cannot be filled by a settled worker.)

Further, they will have to earn a minimum annual salary of £20,000. And there's more to be worried about: the maintenance threshold for international students has been increased from April 2012, and students now have to show evidence of more funds to support themselves during their course. Small wonder then the number of Indian students going to the UK dropped to 15,097 in 2012 from 28,774 in 2011.
While the English language is still a big draw of the UK for Indian students, things are changing. In the past, it was not easy for students to work in non- English speaking countries of Europe after their studies and many found it difficult to pick up a foreign language. "Students who have family businesses prefer to study in the EU because the courses are generally shorter and hence cheaper. Such students are not looking for employment," explains Karan Gupta, a Mumbai-based education consultant. Besides, he adds, some EU countries such as France and Germany have special work visas that international students can apply for. "The majority of Indian students are value-seekers.

The higher barriers of visa and lower employment prospects have lowered the value proposition," explains Rahul Choudaha, a consultant and director of research and strategic development, World Education Services, New York. Thus, some Indian students, especially with limited funds, are finding other European destinations like Germany and France, more attractive. This is primarily due to a combination of two factors: lower or no tuition fees coupled with wider choice for master's programmes in English, adds Choudaha.

Agrees Gupta: "Public institutes in Germany don't charge any tuition fees even from international students. Thus many students from India choose Germany as it's significantly cheaper than anywhere else in the world," he adds.

Lower tuition fees are motivating many Indian students like Dhruv Kumar, 24, to move to France rather than the UK. "Many of the top business schools in France are more affordable than similar ones in the UK. Scholarships are also easily available," says Kumar, who is all set to join a masters of management programme at Essec, one of France's top business schools.

An engineering graduate from Delhi University, Kumar believes that renewable energy, which is his area of specialisation, has a lot of opportunities in France and he will be able to intern with top companies there. "I have taken up French classes for the past two months. However, my course will be taught in both English and French," he says.

They Teach in English
In France, the language barrier is being chiselled away. More than 700 courses at the master's level are taught in English. The number is expected to increase dramatically thanks to the reform of public university curriculums. Campus France also plans to launch an HR forum of French companies in India shortly.

"The objective is to develop executive management programmes at the senior level, as well as internship programmes, to raise awareness about the quality of French business education and its alumni, develop the number of CSR ventures, scholarships, and placement platforms for Indian graduates of French universities," says Gueny-Mentre.

For many of the French companies with large operations in India, Indian students taking up management, technology and science courses in France form a large talent pool for their operations across Europe and elsewhere.

"Going to the top universities in France opens doors for Indian students to be employed in Europe and if they pick up the French language they become even more valuable for companies such as ours with large operations in Europe and French-speaking countries of Africa," says Avadesh Singh, deputy CEO in India of French engineering group Egis. The Continental advantage for Indian students looking for higher education options overseas extends to Germany too.

Currently, there are 6,000 Indian students studying in Germany, with the numbers showing an annual increase of 20% over the past three years. The country is branding itself as the economic locomotive in Europe with highly integrated global flows of people. Germany too is wooing Indian students towards big job opportunities that can come their way after education. Indian students are allowed to work 120 days a year during their studies in Germany and, after they have completed their courses, graduates can stay on for another 18 months to look for a job.

Source: The Economic Times (Online Edition), July 14, 2013

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Africa makes the grade for richest US university investors

Americas wealthiest universities are venturing into Africas fast- growing frontier markets in search of outsized investment returns that will allow them to offer scholarships, lure star professors and fund research. For Sub- Saharan Africa, recognition from these deep-pocketed US institutions, who have often earned envy among fellow global investors for their strong returns, marks asignificant shift.

American university endowments --- permanent funds of educational institutions --- pride themselves on spotting new investment opportunities early, such as venture capital, private equity and natural resources such as timber. Combined, they manage assets of over $ 400 billion. A study of 831 endowments by the Commonfund Institute and the National Association of College and University Business Officers published this year showed their annual net returns in the 10 years to June 30, 2012, averaged 6.2 per cent. In the same 10- year period, returns for the US S&P 500 stock index were 5.3 per cent.

In Africa, they are seeing many of the trends that played out in emerging markets like China, India or Brazil - strong economic growth, an emerging middle class, greater political stability and improved government balance sheets.

These are just the attractions that US President Barack Obama highlighted on his recent trip to the continent when he urged American and other investors to "come down" to Africa. "The growth, consumer spending, improved governance and disposable wealth, theyre all positive stories," said William McLean, who manages Northwestern University's $ 7- billion endowment.

His team is investing in Nigeria and Kenya among other countries and recently doubled its exposure to Africa. "Our motivations are making some money," he told Reuters in a telephone interview. "You have to look everywhere for growth." It is difficult to know exactly how many US university endowments have put money in Africa because most prefer not to discuss their investment strategy.

Wale Adeosun, founding partner at New York- based investment firm Kuramo Capital Management, said endowments interest in Africa began after the 2008- 2009 financial crisis. He estimates that 10 to 15 per cent of these institutions are already investing in Africa. Up to 30 per cent may be seriously looking for deals there, he says.

"The larger pools of capital are here in the US and youre seeing the interest picking up about exploring opportunities in Africa," Adeosun added. Many endowments are required or aim to channel about five per cent of their market value to their schools budget each year, to fund scholarships, research and new campus facilities.

The interest means that Africa is attracting a new class of investor - those with unlimited time horizons, in contrast to the speculative hot money that poured into the region before 2008 only to vanish when the global financial crisis hit.

"Its a lot more patient capital and ... the healthy thing about that interest is that its likely to withstand the short term noise around the tapering of QE (US quantitative easing)," said Razia Khan, head of Africa research at Standard Chartered.

Besides offering the possibility of cheaper assets and higher returns that have been hard to come by since the global financial crisis, Africa along with other frontier markets also provides more diversification for the investors.

US endowments awakening appetite for Africa is another sign that the continent is shedding its past reputation for conflict, poverty and aiddependency in favour of a more positive image of progress. Lindel Eakman, Managing Director of private markets at the University of Texas Management Company, told aprivate equity conference in Cape Town earlier this year that Africas reality is different to what is often reflected by media coverage.

Source: Business Standard, July 9, 2013 

Rupee slide stalls Indian students' home return

When Vivek Goyal applied to the Stanford Graduate School of Business in 2010, the IIT-Kharagpur graduate and operations department manager with Procter & Gamble was confident of setting up base in India after completing his MBA. But like several other fellow Indians studying at leading global B-schools, he has dropped his plans of returning this year due to the slackening economy back home and the sharp depreciation in the rupee coupled with the signs of revival in the US.

The investment environment has deteriorated considerably in India since the time he enrolled into the programme, Goyal points out. "Venture capital investments have gone down over the past six months and it makes sense to stick to the Bay Area and gather a network here," says Goyal, who launched e-commerce venture RentZeal with batchmate Abhishek Poddar three months ago and graduated recently.

His partner and other batchmates share his pessimism, evident in the fact that none of the other eight Indian students in their class of 2013 is planning to shift back home this year. Last year, four of the seven Indian students at Stanford had returned to India, partly because of the dismal economic situation in the US even as the domestic economy was also on the decline.

"One has to take a substantial hit in pay packets to come and work in India, and it does not make sense to earn in rupees and pay loans in dollar terms," says Poddar, who has to pay back about $140,000 (around Rs. 8.5 million), the average loan amount taken by students for an MBA at Stanford. Data gathered by ET from the alumni networks shows the situation is much the same at Wharton Business School, Harvard Business School and Europe's top schools such as Insead, with fewer Indian students planning to return to the country after graduation this year.

Just three or four of the 45-50 Indian students at Wharton are planning to return to India this year, down from 15-20 of a batch of about 30-35 last year. "Fewer Indian students from my batch are returning to India this year and many of my classmates are staying back in the US. And the few who are coming back are mostly coming back for personal reasons," says Mukta Darera, who is joining Booz & Company as a consultant in San Francisco, adding that the prospects seem better in the US at present.​

India's GDP growth hit a decadal low of 5% in 2012-13, and a consistently depreciating Indian rupee plunged to an all-time low of 61.21 against the US dollar on Monday. Overseas investors pulled out a record Rs. 441.62 billion from the Indian capital markets last month amid concerns over the depreciating rupee. The developments are a far cry from the time these students had enrolled in 2010-11, when India clocked a GDP growth of 8.5%.

Also, the Indian students who are opting to start their own ventures are finding that being in the US helps grow businesses better. This was not the case earlier, when Indian students from overseas schools were returning to India to open their startups.

"The general optimism about the Indian economy that was there in my batch (class of 2011) is gradually waning," says Anirudh Suri, managing director, India Internet Group, and a Wharton alumnus. Most of the people who returned from his batch were to start their own ventures. "However, now with the US having a more startup-friendly environment, most of them are opening their enterprises there, particularly technology-based ventures," says Suri.

PE funds are not offering as many India placements as they did two years ago either, says Suri, reasoning that perhaps these firms have got slowly overstaffed in the country. At Harvard Business School, the number of Indian students returning to India slumped to 10 in 2012 from 15 in 2011 in a batch size of about 25 Indian students. The number has stayed at 10 this year, in spite of an increase in the number of Indian students in the batch.

Those who chose to come back to India over the past two years are grappling with bigger loans, a result of the depreciating rupee. With the rupee having depreciated more than 10% in the past couple of months, people who have paid about 10% of the loan last year would be back to square one, says a graduate from HBS who started paying off a dollar-denominated loan of Rs. 5 million last year.

Arun Dubey, a graduate from Stanford's class of 2012, recalls that the rupee was at about 48 against the dollar when he applied for his student loan. "This is a big burden and definitely a concern. We are keeping our fingers crossed," he says.

Employment statistics released by Harvard Business School for the class of 2012 revealed that India severely lagged behind other regions such as China, Hong Kong and Brazil in terms of salaries offered after graduation. The median base salary offered in India was $58,500 in 2012, compared with $130,000 in Hong Kong, $100,000 in China and $96,706 in Brazil.

Raj Chinai, a Harvard, Kellogg and University of Pennsylvania alumnus and the co-founder and co-chair of HBS Alumni Angels of India, an association of Harvard alumni interested in investing in high-potential earlystage companies, feels that most Indians who consider returning to the country are motivated by the idea of pursuing their entrepreneurial dreams soon after completing their education overseas. "The local MBA talent has also grown in the country and MNCs looking at hiring here have wider options to choose from at a lower cost," he says.

Students also cite policymaking in India among the reasons for staying back. "India's reputation among the global B-school fraternity is not as positive as it was two to three years ago. There is lack of clarity on key issues and foreign investors are pulling out of India," says a graduate from one of the world's top three business schools. "Some of the American companies are also moving their manufacturing operations to the US, which is a good sign," adds the graduate, who is joining an American multinational tech giant in the operations team and does not wish to be named.

The number of Indian students coming back from Insead has also been going down over the past two years. While 27 students returned to India in 2011 of 104 Indian students, the number dropped to 11 in 2012 from a batch size of 111 Indian students.

"The equity markets in the US are doing much better now and are hence much more favourable for entrepreneurs, who need capital. A higher number of candidates will get attracted to places where there's capital," says Anviti Shankar, an MBA student at Insead's December class of 2013. Until things start looking up back home, Indian students abroad are clearly in no hurry to pack their bags.

Source: The Economic Times (Online Edition), July 9, 2013

Friday, July 05, 2013

Private universities find more takers in Delhi

A demand-supply mismatch for undergraduate courses in Delhi University has created a windfall for private universities and institutes in the region. This year, the increase in number of applicants hit a new high of 43%. Nearly 250,000 students have applied for 54,000 seats, and the admission process is still on.

Individual course applications spell out the discrepancy even more starkly. The university offers a centralised admission form where students can indicate their choices for streams but not colleges, while colleges admit students based on cut-off lists for different subjects. For Economics, for instance, the number of applications has more than doubled to 50,000 from 21,000 last year. For Commerce, it has gone up to 60,000 this year from 28,000 last year. "On the one hand, private colleges are increasing their seats and launching new campuses. On the other, government colleges have seen no increase in seats, forget about launching new campuses," says Shri Ram College of Commerce Principal PC Jain.

Private universities have seen demand grow manifiold. At Amity University, the number of applications is expected to touch 200,000 this year, compared with 150,000 in 2012. It has increased its total number of seats to 12,500 this year.

Sharda University too has seen a similar trend. It has 2,000 seats for undergraduate courses across various streams. The number of applications has doubled thus far to 20,000, compared with 2011. "For the past few years, the number of applications have been growing at over 50% year on year," says PK Gupta, Chancellor.

The reasons for this trend could be many, although a clear picture will emerge once the admission process ends by July 10. Primarily, the demand for quality education has increased. "We see that in the students we interview. People come from various regions of the country - Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar and even the North East - and all they want is quality education," says Pradyuman Kumar, Officiating Principal, Hindu College.

Besides, private colleges offer more options. Amity University, for instance, offers courses in Built Environment (Real Estate and Construction), Forensic Sciences, Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) and a three-continent course, which gives students an option to study in London, New York and Singapore besides India. "This draws a lot of students who want challenging career options and good exposure," says Atul Chauhan, Chancellor, Amity University.

"We typically see a surge in the number of applications around July 10-15, when students get some clarity on their chances of securing admission to Delhi University," says Prashant Bhalla, President, Manav Rachna International University (MRIU).

Not every private institution is seeing unprecedented demand, though. As Sharda University's Gupta says, the sector is in the throes of a churn. "A large number of colleges are about to close down; a smaller number is seeing a surge in applications," he says. Nevertheless, the trend looks like it is here to stay for a while.

Source: The Economic Times, July 5, 2013

Newer IIMs Stay Low on Gender Balance

Most of the newer Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) have a long distance to cover before they can catch up with their older counterparts on gender diversity. The percentage of women in the 2013-15 batch at four IIMs in Tiruchirapalli, Ranchi, Shillong and Udaipur, has dropped - in some cases sharply. Only three of the seven new IIMs - Rohtak, Raipur and Kashipur - have managed to surpass last year's numbers. The six older IIMs have all outdone last year's performance (ET, June 17).

At IIM-Shillong, which is in its sixth year, the percentage of women has fallen to 22% this year from nearly 30% of the batch last time. IIM-Ranchi has seen the numbers drop to 8.75% this year from 18% in the 2012-14 batch and IIM-Udaipur, to 13.6% in the 2013-15 batch from 28% last time. The sharpest fall has been in the case of IIM-Trichy, where, at 52.9%, more than half the class of 2012-14 comprised women. This year, it's a mere 15.7%.

With the exception of IIM-Shillong and IIM-Ranchi, all the new IIMs awarded extra points to women in the interest of gender diversity. It worked in some cases, like that of IIM-Raipur or IIM-Rohtak, where the institute has seen the percentage of women jump nearly five-fold to 47.6% from 9.6%.

"There is a feeling in the government as well as corporates that increased representation of women is the need of the hour. That's true of educational institutes as well," says IIM-Rohtak Director P. Rameshan. The institute gave women students extra points for gender diversity at the time of shortlisting.

IIM-Trichy, on its part, gave one percentage point extra to women candidates, marginally lower than what was given last year. But Godwin Tennyson, Chairperson, Placement and External Relations, IIM-Trichy says that cannot be the only reason for the higher proportion of women last year.

"The percentage of women admitted in an IIM has many drivers starting from the percentage of women who cleared CAT and qualified for the admission selection process. A candidate gets admitted based on about seven dimensions: written analysis test, personal interview, work experience, performance at undergraduate level, masters degree or professional qualification, gender and CAT score," says Tennyson. "So, the chance of someone getting admitted to an IIM is a complex function with many moving parts. We cannot filter out a single dimension that really contributed to the admission of a student," he adds.

IIM-Shillong, on its part, says it has always focused on meritocracy and diversity of the participants, and not on gender diversity for their PGDM course. Diversity is not about one programme alone, says MJ Xavier, Director of IIM-Ranchi. So while the institute's PGDM programme has seen a fall in the number of women, their PGDHRM programme has a much higher proportion of women - nearly 37%, or 16 out of 43 students.

"Between the various programmes including FPM, we have around 20% women on campus. Without giving marks for gender diversity, we have still managed to attract a lot of women," says Xavier. "However, since most people are giving extra marks for women, I may be forced to do that from next year," he added.

Added the IIM-Ranchi Director: "We are trying to achieve diversity across many dimensions such as educational background, work experience, masters degree and gender. Overall, all these dimensions contribute to the learning experience in the class. At the same time, we also try to ensure that quality of the batch is not compromised for diversity."

With corporates trying to shore up their gender diversity numbers and IIMs serving as one of the most critical pipelines of managerial talent, there's a buzz across campuses about getting more women on board. Already, there have been changes made in the pattern of CAT: 50% weightage to language skills as well as a written test during the admission process, both designed to get more women.

The number of women applicants in CAT has also seen an increase to 60,876 in 2012, which represents 28.4% of total applicants compared with 27.3% in CAT 2011.

Debashis Chatterjee, Director of IIM-Kozhikode, which at 54.29%, has the highest number of women across all IIMs, says the institute was responding to market demands for diversity. For the past 40 to 50 years, 8% to 10% was the average composition of women in IIM classes, he says, adding: "That was lopsided, the diversity skewed in terms of gender. Now it's not only about correcting the balance, but also about creating the necessary aspirations among women."

Global B-schools, he says, now decide diversity profiles before they admit students. "Once diversity is made a consideration, more women apply. IIMs don't have to give points to women. They just have to change their lens," says Chatterjee.

Source: The Economic Times, July 5, 2013

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